Occupy group at moment of truth

By Chris Morris -
Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon
Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon

Councils nationwide are watching how Dunedin grapples with the legality of evicting anti-capitalism protesters occupying the city's Octagon.

Wellington City Council staff yesterday said events in Dunedin were a test case for dealing with their own occupation, while Christchurch and Auckland councils were also monitoring developments.

Dunedin City Council staff on Tuesday served trespass notices to protesters involved in the Occupy movement, which has spread from the United States around the globe.

They were given an 8pm deadline to leave but refused, parading around the Octagon and cheering when told police would not enforce the order.

The stand-off continued yesterday, with Dunedin chief executive Paul Orders saying the council's position was clear and the onus was on the police to enforce council bylaws.

"We believe that the protesters are occupying the Octagon in a way that contravenes bylaws, and on that basis clearly the police have to consider whether they enforce the trespass notice."

Dunedin/Clutha area commander Inspector Greg Sparrow said police had to balance competing interests and would consider their legal position before deciding whether to act.

Council staff received a "significant number" of emails and phone calls about the protests yesterday, while online visits to the Octagon web camera spiked from about 300 a day to nearly 12,000 on Tuesday.

Mr Orders said discussions with police were continuing yesterday, but he could give no indication when - or if - action might follow.

The Bill of Rights allowed only for "lawful protest in a lawful manner", he said. "What we're talking about here is the fact that the protesters' camping actions are unlawful. That's the heart of the matter from the council's point of view."

The council would consider other legal options if police declined to enforce the trespass notices, he said.

The Octagon protesters had been warned they were in breach of the Reserves Bylaw and the Camping Control Bylaw, which together prohibit camping on reserves or any other public place without council approval.

Occupations are also taking place in other New Zealand centres, with one group camping in Auckland's Aotea Square and another at the southern end of Christchurch's Hagley Park.

Auckland Council staff are following events in Dunedin, although a spokesman said they hoped to negotiate an end to the Aotea Square protest "as soon as possible". Wellington council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council was taking "great and close interest" in Dunedin's approach before dealing with its own occupation beside Civic Square. Otago Daily Times

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